Food, Glorious Food….(sing it out)

This is the second to last blog with a final, finale to say goodbye in a few weeks.  I will start by answering the last quiz I gave you.  There really wasn’t a confirmed hard answer to that one, other to say that the operator of the carnival ride said something to the fact, that it was a “representation of everyone”, gender, country and success.  Go figure.  Still a little unsettling to my taste….. the polished nails, with forearms that any arm wrestler would be proud of,  lol.

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Ok, this is your final test, and for some quite easy, for others, as was my first experience with this, so it might stretch your cognitive powers a wee bit.  Where am I and what am I experiencing?  Whom ever answers this one the best, I will be sure to bring an official Albania souvenir for them.  Incentivizing, no less,……right?  You can respond to me privately, so no one sees your answer.   rcllewis@yahoo.com

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“Food”, as from the musical Oliver is more apropos in a sensory way, as they had thoughts and desires of food but weren’t available to them.  It was more like dreaming.  In some ways my wife and I dream about the foods we crave and it seems they are all around us, but just not accessible.  Should you have a hankering for some good old spaghetti and meatballs, or mexican food, or chinese or thai or armenian, or pizza, or a nice medium cooked steak, it seems like a very reasonable request and you can almost smell it just around the corner, but NOT!!!  We have been in some very nice restaurants and as far as decor is concerned, would rival anything in America, especially the wood work and detail available here, as well as some of the vistas are breath taking.  Most places however are quaint and just nice and we were always noticing the next restaurant around the corner, saying “That looks good, lets try that one or look at that one, now that’s what I’m talking about”.  However no matter the beautiful decor or simple quaintness that it is, IT ALL TASTE THE SAME!!!.  The meat, the chicken, the soups, the pizzas, where ever you go they cook it all the same, all the time, every time.  Not once have they ever asked us how we want our meat cooked.  It is mind boggling and very puzzling and maybe any cook who has tried to do something different gets thrown out or goes under with no business, I don’t know, but now we just laugh and know that whatever the menu might say…… the results are identical, no exceptions and no expectations.

Their fast food consist of only three items: pizza, suflaque (very similar to a gyro), and berek (which is like filo dough with either cheese or spinach),  No taco bell, or mcdonalds or burger king.  Not that we miss any of those anyway, but there is a KFC (2) since Albanians are big chicken eaters, in the capital, however the taste and product is not the same and I wouldn’t even try it.

Now I will admit, that in rare occasions there are some places that do step out and we here about them through the grapevine and certainly we have not tried them all.  We do have our favorites TWO!! that we try to go to whenever we are in the capital, about 2 hours away.  One is a chinese/thai restaurant (one of only two in the capital) that does come pretty close, to a red curry dish my wife gets back home and the other is our favorite, Serendiville.  This is a mexican restaurant that is decked out to the hilt and even though they don’t serve tacos or rice or refried beans, their nachos and chicken quesadillas are quite good.  However their ribeye served over mashed potatoes and veggies, with their sauce or gravy, is to die for.  My mouth is watering even talking about it.  We have never had such a delicious beef dish ever in our experience at Tahoe Joes or anywhere else.

 

Then there are the pastry shops, much like this one pictured with various cakes displayed.  Oddly much like the food in the restaurants tasting the same, all these cakes or pastries have the exact same inside cake, just the outside shows various colors but not flavor variety.

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My Xmas message: 

As we approach this holiday season we see the Lord’s blessings more apparently than usual.  Personally I think it is because of the tremendous need all around us.  Abundance for the most part, is hard to find and so humbly we give thanks for many of the other things that normally don’t grace our table, so to speak. May God enhance our seasonal love, that much more.  To missionaries and to those that serve our countries and those who serve, everywhere……God bless.

Love Bob

Wendy’s Xmas message:

Thank you to those of you who have faithfully followed our Mission blog these past 17 months. I think that many of you will agree that my husband has been blessed with the  gift of writing and has the unique ability to relate in words what he visualizes in the world in a very raw, humorous and detailed way. Raw, meaning, that there might have been a time or two that I encouraged him (well, made him) x out a word, pic or phrase. But of course, those are few and far between. Lol!! I appreciate his tremendous efforts in keeping you in touch with our lives here, as well as all of his love, help and support not only to me, but to our Branch members. Having the opportunity to serve a Mission, especially during the holiday season, has blessed us to to be able to focus more on the our Savior and the true meaning of Christmas. No running around last minute shopping for gifts that might be returned, no staying up late on Christmas eve wrapping last minute purchases and no fighting the traffic to get from place to place. The true meaning of Christmas is serving the loved, unloved, the poor and the downtrodden. We have witnessed that here time and time again and are so grateful to be able to help in any way possible as well as to feel needed. We truly love and miss all of you and feel grateful to have you as our dear family and friends. May the Lord’s blessings be with you during this beautiful Christmas season!!!

 

Just a few Pictures…..

Since Greece and Cyprus are a part of our mission since June, as they eliminated the position of the Mission President for that area, our bi-annual senior couples seminar was held in Athens, Greece.  We were so excited to hop on a plane and land in Athens, Greece and tour different parts of the country, especially where Paul preached, Acropolis, Mars Hill, Corinth.  The huge difference than Albania – the shops, and shopping are litterly everywhere and tourist galore.  You can always hear someone speaking english and the souvenirs selection is incredible.  Just goes to show you how little people want to travel to  Albania vs. Greece.

 

Our Halloween Party

 

Thanksgiving came early and  with 16 Missionaries and one turkey it didn’t stand a chance, ha.

And the Walls came a Tumbling Down…..

Well, we are in the last part of our mission.  I call it my tithing – consecrated offering to the Lord.  These last two months are in essence the last 10% of our time here in Albania. If there is any devotion or service we can render and do better, it is this last time slot.  Stay focused on the task at hand and not dwell on home.  We need to lay it all on the line and give all we have left with full strength.  “Never, never, never give up”……(Winston Churchill).

It seemed like for the longest time the walls of our little city, figuratively speaking, were too much to overcome and  baptisms,  despite the best efforts of some of the best missionaries, were not going to happen.  It had been almost a year since our last baptism Xhoni Selimaj.  Then from a small village just outside our city,  came Christian Hoxha who showed us his determination and quite smoking in ONE day.  Huge cracks appeared in the great wall.  Then came Anxhela Kola, with her courageous determination to stand alone, bricks were tumbling down.  Then came Lida Hoxha who resisted the call to join the church at first, but after reading the Book of Mormon 3 times entered the waters of baptism and left the wall in shambles.

Our  little branch was growing and the feeling was rewarding.  To see the next Sunday, Lida bare her testimony, Anxhela to give the invocation (opening prayer), Xhoni to give a talk and Christian to pass the Sacrament, was a humbling experience to see the hand of the Lord in this part of His vineyard.

As a missionary, it is amazing how the gospel can change the lives of individuals who begin with that small seed of faith and repentance and then watch it grow as they begin to sacrifice by making changes in their past habits.  Watching them learn, read the scriptures daily, give up smoking, give up coffee, give up old life styles, and come to church on Sundays, sets an example even for us.  The Lord sees their efforts and rewards them accordingly.   13 For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
(Mosiah 5:13)

Love you all.

Down Under with Visitors from Mars

Some say 450,000 others say up to 750,000, needless to say, they are ubiquitous and they’re not going anywhere fast.  BUNKERS, BUNKERS, BUNKERS and more  BUNKERS…., made of concrete steel and rebar, built mostly from 1960 to 1980.  More were built for 2 to 3 individuals, some were built for 7 people, and then there were large ones, built for 200 plus individuals (which we visited, pictures enclosed), mostly for the government and leadership of Albania.  This was the paranoid communist dictator’s idea for war and the survival of his people.  Stagnate civilian targets or “tombs:”, as I call them.  Building them, crippled the already failing economy, which needed food, housing and infrastructure more than anything else.  Enver Hoxha, Stalinist, communist dictator from 1944 to 1985, has got to be remembered for the worst ideas ever.  Not only was he crippling the country but was set on a course to create the first only Atheist Country in the world, which he proudly proclaimed he accomplished.  Before his reign of tyranny, the country was 70% religious.  Can you Imagine the deaths, tortures and imprisonment that took place, in a country of 2 million people to achieve this goal?  After his death in 1985 Communism lasted but a few short years and was ousted in 1991. It is hard to believe that most of this was happening while I was of age serving my mission.  UNBELIEVABLE !

And then, came our visitors from Mars, well they might as well have been from Mars, as no one else has visited us since our arrival in Albania, it’s not exactly around the corner.  So who would?  Who else, but the world-famous travelers, Bryant and Karen Jolley.  My wife and I, who are homebodies generally, got the see the famous travelers in action and the kind of things they do when traveling. Never a dull moment, their visit was a delight.  We ate ice-cream (Bryant), visited the bunkers, called Bunk’Art, had some ice-cream (Bryant), rode the gondola up the mountain, had lunch and some ice-cream (Bryant), toured our little town, had some ice-cream (Bryant), and who would have known that Albania had their own Elderberry’s house.  We sat down for a 3 hour, 7 course dinner, and we’re hungry afterwards, no ice-cream unfortunately.  If you know Bryant, you’ll understand his unique philosophizing, when he says, “I can tell the economy or pricing structure of any country, by its pricing of ice-cream and Coke”, lol.  They no sooner got here and they were gone…….leaving us with two large bags of Pistachios and great memories.  Long live Bryant and Karen!!!

Since I know you guys obviously like contest, I’m enclosing this last picture in hopes that you don’t have nightmares about it.  Tell me what it is or represents and what is it being used for?

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We call it “Home”

Ok, as promised, the answer to our cardboard quiz.  They use cardboard sometimes to act like a buffer from sitting on cold moist tile or cement benches (no frozen buns!).    HOWEVER, with that being said, it’s main use is found in all it’s glory as a cushion or game-board for “dominoes”.   On any given day sometimes hundreds of older men gather in the park to display their skills in dominoes.  No women whatsoever.  This buffer or cushion, not only acts as a scorecard, with which they can write on, but with occasionally arguing and vocal outburst, the winner, emphatically SLAPS, his victory domino onto the cardboard and declares himself supreme !!!  The last piece played.

Our Home Street – From our apartment balcony, if you listened carefully, off in the  distance, you can hear the sound of an ambulance, though faint, but knowingly, it will get progressively louder and louder, until it rings in our ears.  If you remember, we live next door from the only hospitals in the city.  The 4 different types of sirens always end on our street, as well as the occasional emergency car who is acting like a ambulance (perfectly acceptable here), honking their horn all the way to the entrance, usually with some kind of family emergency.

We live on the 6th floor, the top floor of our particular apartment building.  Some nights you could hear all the city sounds, as they echo off the different buildings surrounding us.  The city lights add quite a beautiful site in the evenings and add a touch of romanticism.  This small 300-yard street which we live on, offers quite a life of hustle and bustle.  This little street is on a gradual slope ascending as it makes it’s way upwards past our apartment and to the the top where the two separate hospitals are located, general and maturity.  The slope provides just enough cardio that we feel we are keeping the exercise requirements of missionaries.  On our street are three small vegetable fruit stands, one displaying assorted toys hanging from strings, that brings character and life to the lives of many who walk up and down, on their way to one of the hospitals, and with whom we conveniently and frequently purchase our sometimes-daily supply of fruits and  vegies.  On our street is one restaurant, that proudly displays the fact that they have air-conditioning, one hotel (Hotel International), about 5 or 6 other apartment buildings, two funeral shops, an eye clinic (of which our own Steven Fogg had donated some eye examination equipment, of all places and which if you wear the missionary badge, eye examination is free), six dentists and twelve, yes twelve pharmacies, with their flashing lights of advertisement, lined up almost one after the other.  Then there is the occasional street vendor spreading their wears of clothing, sun glasses, cellular phones, etc. on a blanket and the often present one to two gypsy, Roma beggars. From our apartment with an extended balcony you can hear 5x daily, chanting of the nearby muslin mosque, which competes with the loud orthodox bells, echoing from their tower and edifice just at the bottom of the street.  Around 9pm at night we will occasionally run into an older man who lives near the top of the hill, on his way back home from selling his small assortment of of items, mounted on a aging wheel chair, whose wobbling wheels are now starting to lose their rubber.  It is rather a hefty incline for such an elderly man.  We can’t help to stop and help him push his cart up the incline until we feel he can better make it on his own.

The experiences that have molded our hearts to love this place are indeed memorable.  When it all just boiled down to making such a simple decision, to just say “yes” to going on a mission, and then to realize it could have so easily gone the other direction, by just staying home, are decisions we are all faced with.  In time, we will have the pleasure of looking back at this brief moment and not regret a single memory.  Much was required, but much was gained.  Listening and then obeying the inner spirit we call the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, helps us realize that which the Lord has said, “My work and my glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (woman)”.  Moses 1:39

(pictured)

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Wendy helping push, as a veteran pioneer.

 

This is our HOME.  We love our little 300 yard street and all that it offers.

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If you look closely you can see 5 pharmacies just in this section of our picture
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Further up the street with 3 more pharmacies in view and a picture of a beauty queen
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Night time view

This little Cafe is located on the daily path to the church and we thoroughly enjoy it’s seasonal change of decor.  Good memories and a lovely part of our Home here.

Enjoying our Anniversary

Gifted Elders (Elder Schneider, Idaho and Elder Ward, Michigan) made us two little cakes, (amazing, one gluten free), girls in our english class announcing our anniversary on the chalk board and sporting the the anniversary gift (new boots).  Very memorable …… and then some.

As it turns out, one of our english class students turns out to be one of the local TV and radio celebrities and wanted us to come on his show and present our message.  So if you are so inclined to see us nervously in action on the local TV show here.  Tune in.

 

Pictures from Home……

 

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View from behind out house at sunset.

Interesting………?

Happy belated Easter!!  (Give us time to get our composure first)

This is our longest blog, but probably for some of you our most interesting…….?  We would really love your comments on some of the things you might feel interesting.  We put in a lot of time and effort into this one.

Also…..I’ve added a lot more videos and pictures to our previous blog posts.  If you have time, ck them out, I think you’ll like them.

Here is OUR SECOND CONTEST.  It had me baffled for awhile until I followed one of these men one day.  Let’s see if you know.  Pictured are these elderly men all over town, usually dressed quite nice with their suits, ties and vests, who are carrying a piece of  cardboard in their hands.  Where are they going and what are they doing with this piece of cardboard ?  (Give your answers in comment section below or email us,  rcllewis@yahoo.com)

Thought it might be interesting to give you an idea of some of the comparisons we have here in Albania.  Food and Services are generally a great bargain here.  When going out to eat you can get a nice meal between $10 to $20 dollars.  A high end meal will usually be about $25 dollars.  One of our favorite dinners is the Salmon dinner, that is only available at certain times  and is as nice as any meal we buy in America.  Two dinners that includes salmon, rice, bread, salad, bottled water, yogurt (served often) and side of fruit costs us about $26 total, and to boot, a great view overlooking the water.  Which puts Carmel by the Sea to rival.

Slice of Pizza  $1

Full Car Wash $3

Gents Haircut $2

Female- Wash & Blow Dry Hair  $10

Nice fresh baked loaf of bread $.80

These vegetables (pictured) we picked up at the market for about $9  (Yes, we juice)

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AND…..the charm of dealing with these wonderful people as they patiently try to teach us the pricing and what to buy, sometimes putting in our bags more than what we wanted is a hoot.

THE ULTIMATE COMPARISON……

Ok, this is going to blow your mind.  My wife got sick and had to go the hospital to have some tests done.  Being gluten free and not knowing a lot of the food preparation and other liquids, she contracted H. Pylori.  We, she, were truly blessed and through prayers of the mission and seeing the correct doctors, she is presently doing better than ever.  But while in the hospital  for approximately 5 hours and treated very well, she had these test and procedures done.  1-Appointment with the Gastroenterologist,  2-Blood work up,  3-Endoscopy (Anesthesiologist),  4-Ultrasound,  5-Lab work and,  6-Four different kinds of prescriptions.   AND……Stand Back…….This was all done without any prior appointment other than making sure the Gastroenterologist was going to be in for that day and that we knew to come fasting.  The doctor made all this happen when we saw him at 11:30 that morning.  He looked at his watch and said, “Yeah, we have time to do this”.  FINALLY, to boot this was all done for $270!!!!!!

Interesting Facts and Things

Ethnicity – The ethnicity of Albania is Albanian.  No Blacks, no Asians, no Mexicans, no Indians, etc.  Other nationalities virtually non existent.  Occasionally you will run across tourist from other countries and Canadians (who come here because of the oil business) and Romas.  Romas are gypsies, however still Albanians, which you can spot by the way they dress, facial features and their darker skin.  They make up the beggars and scavengers of Albania.  They are pretty persistent and will keep knocking on your car window for example until you give or until you can drive away.  Their way of begging is usually sending the younger ones out into the streets or the adults sitting on the sidewalks and walkways ALWAYS with a baby or a very young child lying on their lap or on the walk area, for greater emphasis.

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Romas scavenging for pieces of metal, etc.  Aftermath of building demonlition.

Beach Weather – We decided to go for a drive and ck out the beach one day.  It’s about a 20 mile drive, due west of Fier.  I don’t know if this exist in other areas of the U.S. but we are only familiar with our coast.   The closer you get to the coastline in the summer the cooler the weather becomes and the temperature drops significantly, sometimes from a 100 to 60 degrees in a matter of 20 to 25 miles.  When we left Fier, it was about 90 degrees, as we got closer and closer, we kept expecting the temperature to drop, at least a little.  Not one iota !!!!  The water is warmer than ours as well.  It was very interesting and STRANGE at the same time.  The final interesting thing is the “timing of the visit to the beach”.  When school is out, as in our areas, business and beach enthusiasts are fewer in number, but here when school is out, beach is thriving, but when school is back in, no one, and I mean no one is at the beach.  It could be the same temperature in late august as you got in earlier august, but it doesn’t matter.  Your are considered strange to go to the beach after school starts.  Beaches are deserted.  No one goes to the beach!!  The other interesting fact about weather is in the time of day it is the hottest.  Our peak time for the hottest time of the day is 5pm in California.  Here it is 12noon.

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NO, I’M NOT breaking the mission rules.  Although the other people on the beach look at me as if I WAS!!

Abandoned Buildings – one of the things I noticed when we first got here were all the abandoned buildings in the city and more prominent in the country side.  Local people give a few explanations for this.  Poor planning was one.  Not calculating costs to a finished project.  The number one reason is because of the “Pyramid Schemes” that came after communism fell.  The other was the plight and flight of the communist regime.  When the communist were being ousted and they knew it, they wreaked havoc throughout the country, destroying factories, businesses, railways, etc.   I believe, so that the country would fail and they would be back in power by default and choice.  The country is still reeling from the devastation and it has been years to see progress finally coming about.  Just this last month they have begun rebuilding the railway portion in our area, that once was a thriving business.

Ice-Cream – Albanians DO eat ice-cream but they DO NOT eat ice-cream in the WINTER, and when I say ice-cream it’s a type of ice-cream that could be called such.  Some stores have the same ice-cream bars in their freezers that they had at the end of summer, other stores remove the ice-cream section all together and the ice-cream kiosks that you would see in the shopping areas, are all gone.  Sometimes we feel weird and get strange looks in line at the market, buying ice-cream in the winter.  They do have an ice-cream bar here called “Magnum” that is shipped in from outside Albania, that we have to control ourselves from eating everyday or else we would make Homer Simpson look thin.  We call it, “Heaven on a stick”.

Fire Department-  There is no Fire Department in Albania.  No reason,  Cement doesn’t burn.

Kissing – Albanians, like some of the other European countries are affectionate and love to kiss.  Women and girls kissing other women and girls, men kissing women, men kissing men, and even young men and boys kissing each other.  One side of the cheek (left side first) to the other, and sometimes multiply times.  Girls and women hold hands all the time, and even the younger boys and men are sometimes arm in arm.

Teeth – You’ll notice that teeth are an issue here.  We tried to find out why but still alludes our knowledge for fact.  Part is the water, part is hygiene and lack of failure to have regular check-ups and the ability to pay for them.  When I first got here I wanted to fix all of the teeth of the members.  I soon discovered I would have soon been broke, as almost everyone has some issue or other.

Hallmark-Dead– Hallmark is a lost cause for some reason here.  There is not a greeting card to be found anywhere.  No birthday cards, no xmas cards, nothing.  Strange or interesting?

Addresses – 90% of all Albanians, DO NOT have addresses.  No mail delivery.  Mostly you go to the post office.  However with that being said, most people don’t get mail or send mail.  A pizza delivery guy, used big time here, usually delivers to the closes landmark or building, and then you meet him at the street level, to get your delivery.

Clothing – One thing we enjoy throughly, is the clothing worn by the people.  Usually very conservative, with the older generation men wearing 3 piece suits and women wearing dresses.

Candy – For some reason only the company “Mars” is allowed in the country.  So you can get everything Mars produces.  M & M peanuts and plain, snickers, bounty, skittles, mars, three musketeers, orbit gum, and twixt, that’s it.

Cafe’s- There are lots and lots of little outdoor cafe’s, or as they call them “Bars”.  Mostly to drink water, coffee  (which is a tiny cup with a thick pasty like substance) or liquor and not much else, NO FOOD, oh…. and socialize.  There are just everywhere.  Interesting thing is that it is almost like they had a sign up that says “No women allowed”.  Usually all men. (Pictured)  Also the names on these establishments are usually American names.  You would think to attract Albanian customers you would use Albanian names, but no. (pictured)  Also pictured below are 99% men waiting at the airport for a flight arrival.

Dogs– Pets are not a big thing here, mostly I think it is because of the city life with apartment living.  They DO like canaries BIG TIME, but usually at places of business, not so much in the homes, sometimes with 6 and 8 cages of canaries hanging on the wall.  What’s interesting is that canneries are trainable!  While cutting my hair my barber will let his cannery out of it’s cage and fly around the shop and onto his finger AND even let it outside and it will come back.

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Repair shop but with 8 cages of canneries out front

Dogs are plentiful, not so much as pets but STRAY DOGS!  They roam usually in packs on the streets and scrap for food, and don’t have any interaction with the people.  By and large they are pretty mangy looking.  You do not approach them and if they have a big round colored tag pierced on their ear, then you know that they have been caught and vaccinated, so they are not as dangerous or problematic.  They never seem to be a threat and predominately seem gentle, however when it comes to each other, I’ve seen some serious interaction.  Trash areas and grass areas are where they generally eat and sleep, but cement will work as well. (pictured)

 

 

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Tagged dog

Wiring– Who needs American codes?  That’s for wimps.  What happened to the lost art of wiring?  If you don’t pay your bill and you get cut off, just run your own wire and whoala your back in business. (pictured)

Litter– Generally speaking the Albanians we have seen and know are very clean people and are always sweeping and moping.  When it comes to litter it is a bit baffling.  Many people just throw their papers and trash to the ground and it just builds up in different like repositories around neighborhoods.  This despite that they hire many workers who sweep the streets during the day and night, and pick up the trash in areas of the city.  We’ve asked why the people do this and many tell us it is left over from the communist era, where many people in defiance of control would just throw their litter into the streets in protest. (pictured)

Doors – Interesting fact about doors in Albania.  You will never find a door that needs to be locked, with a locking mechanism on it, push button, turn mechanism, etc..  All doors will have a key in the keyhole on the side of the door that needs to be locked.  Whether in a hall way, or a building, or a bathroom, or a bedroom door, all doors have the keys just in the locking device.

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Sanitation – Usually you will not find paper towels or toilet paper in public restrooms.  It seems like they just don’t care.  If you’re particular about that sort of thing especially women, then you just bring your own, especially when you travel.  Last time we stopped at a gas station my wife faced this lovely abode.  It flushes, what more do you want?  You know that there are some pretty nasty ones in America as well.

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Shops and vendors of food products always hand you the food with one hand and handle the money with the same hand.  No separation of personnel duties (one for taking monies and orders vs. the one handling the food or handing it to you).  It does exist but very rare to find plastic food gloves used.

Money – Their denomination of bills are slightly easier.  There are no $1 bills just coins.  Coins are $.01, .05 .10, .20, .50 and then the 1.00.  Even though their money is called “leke”, we can compare the same to the dollar or very close equivalency.  They have $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50 in paper.  No $1 or $100.  One of the unique problems when dealing with money is where they put the decimal.  If you’re dealing with vendors on the street or older people, they deal with, let’s say thousand’s (old leke), but if you are in most stores, especially newer stores and or younger people they use hundreds as their decimal placement.  So you always have to try to figure out when someone quotes you something or someone is talking about a price of something, just which lek form they are using.  It would mean the difference of $10 vs. $1.  Usually you just drop two placements and you got it.  So when you see this Leke – 112.00, it means $1.12.  As in most European countries all prices shown in stores include the tax and here in Albanian, the tax is 20%.

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Soda $1.20

 

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TV  $349.00

Gas Stations-Gas stations are quite the deal here.  Whereas in America, they are making them smaller and smaller, here the bigger the better.  They are quite large and usually have some type of Cafe or bar or restaurant or hotel, connected to them.  What is interesting is, that because there are virtually no overhead passes on the highway, you do have to pay a attention to the signs and bumps placed on the highway to slow down when cross traffic is available.  However because they are few and far between, you sometimes will see a gas station on one side of the highway, with an exact duplicate on the other side of the highway to service both traffic directions.

Competition – It is an interesting thing the way competition displays itself here.  For instance, if you are selling bananas on the street, you could have 2 or 3 or 6 banana stands right next to each other.  The veggie market we usually try to go to, has about 30 veggie and fruit stands on a second floor building all lined up as you go down the isle. (pictured)  One right after another virtually selling the same produce.  They seem to take pride in their produce, but they also seem to get along with one another and talk to each other all the time with no fighting, yet they are all competing for the same client.  It also seems to filter out into the broader market and consumer.  For instance on our block of just approximately 300 yards, there are 12, yes 12 pharmacies. Granted we are near the hospital but these pharmacies are lined up practically all together.  Even some outdoor cafe and restaurants are so very close to each other that you can not tell where one restaurant begins and the other leaves off.  You have to look closely for a change of umbrella or chair style or table decor.  How they all seem to survive as competitors, I don’t know how, yet they do.  It is very rare to see pumpkins (I have only seen one), as well as are type of persimmons.

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24Hr. Clock-When we first got here it was an adjustment to see all the clocks set at a 24hr system (military time).  When you saw 15hrs you had to figure in your mind ok, that is 12 + 3 = 15 or 3 o’clock.  It is interesting that the next progression, the longer we are here, was seeing 3 o’clock as 15hrs, not figuring.  Now we are starting to look at 15hrs as 15hrs, because that is what time it is.

Policia and Cars -Police are an interesting group.  I just got my 3rd ticket for a parking violation.  First two were $6 ea., this one is $20.  (This my latest update as of 9-11-2018, I now have 4 and my wife has 1).  So I know it is not a big deal, none the less, I thought I had it all figured out, and snap, they got me again!! Lek by lek it’s annoying.  The interesting thing is we usually travel along a fairly nice 4 lane highway.  You have to keep your wits about you at all times, as pedestrians, cows, sheep, hay wagons and mopeds usually going the opposite direction, use the same highway.  Night time can be significantly more treacherous, as the highways are not lit and pedestrians are very hard to see.  One of the things you have to be most vigilant about, is the fact that you could look in your rear view mirror and see no-one behind you what so ever, and if your in the left hand lane, which is usually the lane of choice (better condition), all of a sudden, wham!!! you’ve got a Mercedes barreling down your throat at times over 100 miles an hour.  Quite nerve racking.

There is no highway patrol in Albania.  You will never be pulled over by any type of police car.  Just not done.  However, you WILL see plenty of officers all over town and sometimes on the highways.  They  will use radar sometimes as you might come around a corner to catch you off guard or post a century and he’ll radio ahead.  They usually stand out in the street with these long handle red reflectors and wave you off the road to pull you over.

I have been pulled over 3 times.  Twice for speeding and once because my lights were not on, as that is the law.  However, in complete frustration and to my defense, NO ONE or very few drive the speed limit and less than half of the drivers have their lights on.  It is just on a whim if you are the one they pick to pull over and because I don’t speak Shqip (Albanian) and my drivers license is from California, they just let me go.  SO FAR SO GOOD.  Let me say that some of these missionaries think they are driving a Mercedes and go far greater speeds that I attempt.

We had to buy a larger kitchen table for our apartment one day and after some sign language I understood the van was coming right then and there to deliver our table.  What pulled up was a guy in a Mercedes.  Took foam from his truck and bam!…… you got a delivery truck by mounting the table on the top.  Easy – pezzy.  and his partner with mattresses (pictured).  Here is the amazing thing that I wish I had a picture of.  This guy  arrives at the hotel and I thought I was going to have to help him hall the table up the 5 flights of stairs, because it wouldn’t fit in the small elevator.  NOT…….He put the table (solid wood Not particle board) on his back and I had to struggle to keep up with him as he scaled those 5 flights without stopping to rest.  Interesting…?  or amazing!!

There is a joke in the mission among missionaries, that it doesn’t matter how many lanes you have on any given road there will only be two!  Any typical two lane road always turns into one lane because of the double parking.  It was funny to hear Nancy Harline (fellow senior couple in Africa) mention it in her blog and how annoying it is.  Now I will admit it can be annoying and at first it was for me, now however, I use it and it serves it’s purpose at times.  You just have to park, turn on your emergency blinker to let people know you won’t be toooo long and it works.  The interesting part of parking illegally and including double parking, is that evidently the police will come around, walking the streets as they always do, all day and evening.  As they approach the area of cars being parked illegal, they will start blowing their whistles to let you know they are in the vicinity, and if you don’t come out and move your car, wherever you are, they will ticket you.  So it’s not like they are sneaking up on you, nor not giving you the chance to avoid a ticket, however, neither does it illuminate the double parking problem.

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Double Parking at it’s finest

Sometimes all you need is to stick your nose in.

And then there is just pure “Intelligence”.

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Smart!!!

 

Pergjegjesite Tona (Our Responsibilities)

Now that we are almost real time on the blog, I have to update you on our progress and responsibilities in this small branch in Fier, Albania.  When we arrived there were 9 people in church that Sunday, not including the missionaries and us.  There were more attending church a few years back but do to internal strife, they experienced difficulties which lead to many becoming inactive or falling away.  Many of the situations and problems we encounter here, I can only imagine, are like many of the situations encountered in the early days of the church in America. The church is located on the second floor (picture shown) of an office/ apartment building.  It has been here for approximately 16 years.  Currently through our presence, activation, and persistent love, we have about 20 to 30 coming to church.

In our home ward with it’s membership, if you can’t fulfill a particular calling (responsibility) you call someone else, if they can’t do it, then, you just call someone else, and so on.  There is usually a long line of people willing and able to take your place.  Here, if you look behind you, there is NO ONE ELSE, YOU ARE IT.  There is some wonderful aspects that go with being needed.  You really feel wanted and needed on a whole different level and that you have something to contribute.  It is a special feeling.  I personally think it creates a spark within you that can’t be felt any other way.  Back home you kind of blend in and are one in a number of many.  Here you are the number.  No one else is going to do it.  So the blessing of being needed has it’s counterpart, and that is, you MUST fulfill your responsibility, because there an’t no one else going to do it for you.

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Chapel
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Chapel with members and cute lady in far back row
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My office and the clerks (me)

The mission does about 200 baptisms per year here in Albania and there are approximately 3000 members.  The Church created the first Stake in Albania in 2014 which consisted of 6 Wards and 4 Branches.  Much of the leadership of the church is placed on the shoulders of men and women who have very little understanding of the gospel, especially the ecclesiastical aspects, but try their best.  You just have to help them and LOVE them a lot, and then look the other way as they do things sometimes that make you cringe and laugh at the same time, much of which disseminates through their cultural background, both Muslim and Orthodox, and then the Communist influence.

You can’t help but love these members and investigators, especially as you get to know their individual personalities, which we would love to share with you but just too much to write, as we could not leave anyone out of the picture.  These are the things for which you receive as a rich reward for serving in your designated areas of mission life.

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This is Xhoni (pronounced Johnny) our first baptism, since we came to Fier.  He is a young man with lots of joy and creativity.  His understanding of things in life is quite good and he enjoys learning.  He came to the church through english class and once he began learning about the gospel through the missionaries, he never stopped.  I gave him the priesthood and ordained him a deacon a few Sundays ago and last Sunday was the first time he passed the sacrament.  He was so anxious and proud to do so.  I gave him his “silver dollar” in sacrament meeting.  Something we do in the states to help young men start thinking and saving for a mission.  As you can see he loves to imitate the missionaries and is wearing their coat and name tag.  The other week at school was kind of  “show and tell”.  He brought the BofM (Book of Mormon) to school and told the class it was his favorite book.

About 98% of the membership of the church here, do not have cars, despite the fact there are so many cars that it leads to congested traffic.  A few members could afford a car but choose not to have one simply because there is no need.  They generally live their lives in small cities and everything is within walking distances.  Here in Fier where we live, as mentioned before, there is not one traffic light in the city and by in large we walk to most all places ourselves.  When you might need to travel to the capital, Tirana, or other greater distances you hop a ride on a van, bus, or Taxi or someone using their car as a taxi service.

 

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Members of Fier Branch taking bus to Stake Conference
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Giants in the midst.  Sister Mellaraj (very faithful member)

 

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Members of branch
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Wendy’s seminary class

Video of father and daughter having a raw egg sucking contest. (“Teeth” in next blog)

So this is Fjona (13), same girl sucking eggs and front girl in seminary photo, who is performing in our one and only mall with a group of other performers. This is a popular Abanian song as you can hear the crowd join in on the singing.

We won’t list all the responsibilities we have nor what a Branch President does, but here is some of the things we do.

Monday- Is P day (preparation day) doing odds and ends, cleaning, shopping, laundry, washing car, etc.  Every other Monday we do FHE (family home evening) with the YSA (young single adults) group in our home.  (Church has it’s fair share of acronyms !!)

Tues.- Wendy teaches seminary class and we teach english class in the afternoons

Weds – We have DL mtg. (district leader meeting) in another city and sometimes our YSA Advisory board mtg.

Thurs – English class again

Friday and Saturday – Usually some type of branch activity or project, and we clean chapel ready for Sunday

Sunday – Church services 10 to 12pm.  Wendy teaches S.S. (Sunday School)

Other responsibilities include: Cooking occasionally for missionaries, inspecting 4 missionary apartments, going to zone mtgs every 6wks., visiting the homes of investigators and members,  attending seminary and leadership mtgs, etc.  Senior couples have a great amount of flexibility compared to the younger missionaries and their regimented schedules.  So we enjoy time together and personal study both secular and religious, read, play games, work on the language, go out to dinner and take time to write or visit (Skype) with family and friends.  We could watch tv but as yet we have not decided to buy one.  It’s amazing that what once occupied a great portion of our time, we now find other avenues of enjoyment and use of our time.

AND FINALLY…………. a lot of “LORD, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE US DO?”, things.